Perestroika time – Polishing up a 1987 Lada Samara for auction


As mentioned in the earlier Peugeot 404 article, the local auto club is auctioning off two cars this coming weekend. In addition to the Peugeot, there’s this, a 1987-model Lada Samara 1300 that is going under the hammer and sickle on Sunday.

In the true spirit of перестройка, the Lada was reformed after spending five years immobile and stangnant in a barn, covered in dust and cack. It also received some mechanical sprucing up these past couple of weeks, so that it could return to the streets.


Resembling a Yugo but a size bigger, the Lada Samara was co-developed in the early Eighties with Porsche’s engineering division. It’s not something Porsche like to make a too big fuss about, but the presence of a Lada in the Porsche Museum tells something about the project. The Samara also bears a significant resemblance to the mid-1970s Porsche FLA concept, which was an affordable hatchback designed for a long life. The 1985-unveiled Samara is still in production, albeit modified somewhat.

This one is one of the first-generation cars with the original plastic nose treatment, which got toned down later.


The Samara spent its time in the same barn in which I winter-stored my Sapporo. I never gave it too much attention, as it was overly dusty and had a lot of stuff inside it. But just a couple of weeks ago it was dragged out of the barn and loaded onto a trailer, and with some Mercedes W124 300D power it made it to the garage. Slowly, though.


The Lada wears bespoke and period-correct Melber wheels, imprinted with the Samara logo. A neat touch. The tires are de-studded Michelin winter tires, and frankly hopeless.


The plastic nose cone would be a challenging thing to polish. The colour was fading, and the scrapes and scratches were going to stick there.


The interior wasn’t too dirty, but the seat covers were manky and the dust everywhere made the horrible quality dashboard look even worse. The rear seat had two seat covers on it, and an inexplicable accordion resided there.



Towed to the garage, the Samara could begin to be worked on. The major issue with the Samara was that the ignition barrel was dead. With some persuading with a hammer, the old ignition lock came off and could be replaced – but not before undoing some GDPO fixes done years ago. The plastic on the steering column was so brittle, that it couldn’t be manhandled too much.

After replacing the ignition lock and fiddling with the carburetor, the Samara sprung to life after numerous attempts.


A quick power wash removed most of the accumulated cack, but it was still time to detail the car better.


The engine bay received a powerwash as well. It didn’t exactly run any worse after being washed, on the contrary. On the left, you can see the block heater socket, and the oil cap was mentioned to be straight from a ’60s Fiat product.



The horrible seat covers came off to reveal intact seats with no rips, and a little hoovering and cleaning made it a little bit nicer inside. Nothing in the cabin is very high quality, and the ergonomics are at least questionable. But it all works, sort of.

The manual (of course!) gearbox is a 5-speed, so theoretically it’s bearable on the highway.


A couple days later, armed with a bag of polishing products, I went to town on the paintwork. Cheaply bought paint reviver, hand-buffed, together with some bumper blackener turned the Samara closer to presentable.



After that, the Samara was attempted to get through inspection at the nearest inspection station. Brake and idle issues have still prevented it to reach road legal state, but it’s possible these will get sorted out before the auction.

You know, cleaning up the Samara and to see it get a pulse again sort of made me get all attached to it. It’s basically worthless: while the RWD Ladas are liked and cherished, no-one really cares about the Samara at all. But this example is practically rust free, has only 84 000 km on the clock, and looks somehow likeable in an underdog way. I really wouldn’t mind doing my grocery runs in it, when it’s road legal again. If it receives no proper bids at all, I sort of almost could even snap it for myself. Watch this space.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

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24 responses to “Perestroika time – Polishing up a 1987 Lada Samara for auction”

  1. Alff Avatar

    I have a nearly identical oil cap on my mid-80s Alfa, although mysteriouly imprinted with the digits "0170". Must be a part number.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      You're reading it upside-down. It describes a random collection of unrelated parts:
      I assume it's posted on the cap as fair warning.

      1. miki Avatar

        Olio is italian for, guess what, oil.

        1. Alff Avatar

          Those Italians … it's like they have a different word for everything.

      2. Alff Avatar

        Random collection of parts doesn't faze me. It's the random collection of metal shavings that is problematic.

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          The good news is that eventually they stop forming.

  2. TurboBrick Avatar

    That must be one of those old cheap Soviet made accordions they tried exporting back when this thing was brand new. Did that car have that new car smell or did it "haes ku venäläene hanuri!"?

    1. julkinen Avatar

      The smell inside was a combination of seat covers, moisture, smoking and storage. It's a bit better now.

    2. Perc Avatar

      On my phone and accidentally thumbed down instead of up. Consider this a manual upvote. 🙂

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    This is so ugly and utilitarian, it gets interesting again.
    I always have the same story with the Samara. In high school, a friend's father got a new job, 100+km away from home. He bought a beater Samara for 300 DM (yep, 150€) on the following premises: When the car breaks down proper before he has found a job closer to home, he will get an apartment at the place 100km away. The thing is, I think he put 300000km (!) on the car with only routine maintenance before he moved away proper – and that was only because the friend's parents' marriage broke first.

  4. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    Brilliant work, Antti. I've seen a couple of these in Canada years ago, and having been inside one I concur the plastics are absolutely awful, and perhaps aren't plastics at all. But this is a really well-kept example, you just don't see Samaras from the 80s like this anymore.

  5. Devin Avatar

    Oddly, Canadian Auto Trader ads have a Samara front and center now. Promising people that they can find the used Samara of their dreams seems like it's pitching to a niche market, but I can dig it.

  6. Manic_King Avatar

    I had Samara, well, VAZ 2108 "Sputnik" as it was named for SDM (Soviet Domestic Market), in the beginning of nineties. Colour was different and it didn't have some parts this export model has, like right side mirror, rear window wiper and alloy wheels Finnish importer has installed. That car had amazing ability to muck up its rear window, because of aerodynamic properties. Without wiper first thing to do was to go to weekend car market and buy those flaps this Finnish survivor also has attached to rear hatch. Didn't help much of course.
    Interior quality was atrocious even compared to most other soviet cars, but car itself was just so different and became instant status symbol in USSR when introduced 1985 or so, all the criminals had one during the second half of eighties and then moved on, first to 5-door Samaras and then to foreign cars. Later so called "long hood" or "long wing" versions with front end facelift came and took the top position in list of cars which were available for private citizens during these tough times.
    That butt ugly grille lasted in Finland 1-2 years or so before importer changed it to some easier on the eye version. Oh and Finnish importer built some funky versions with quad headlights and maybe even some turbos?

    1. Manic_King Avatar

      Found the Finnish quad headlight version by Konela tuning:
      <img src="; width="588">

    2. Manic_King Avatar

      And later Finnish grille looked like that, on a convertible built in Finland:
      <img src="; width="625">

      1. TurboBrick Avatar

        Samara convertible… that's like an automotive equivalent of short sleeved ice fishing coveralls.

        1. Manic_King Avatar

          Normal Samara 5-door was so soft that MX people, after towing bikes on a lightweight trailer with it, complained that doors would not close properly anymore. I can't imagine what kind of strengthening that convertible needed to make it viable.

    3. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
      Dean Bigglesworth

      Not sure about the Samara, but they did make turbo versions of the Zhiguli. The article doesn't have too much info about performance, other than it did the standing kilometer in 32 seconds.
      <img src="; </img>
      imafe from <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  7. stickmanonymous Avatar

    You can't polish a turd.
    But you can roll it in glitter!

  8. dukeisduke Avatar

    It looks great, Antti. What's that green and white thing in the first picture?

    1. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

      That's my question too. Looks very 1957-58 GM but it's too small to be a US model. Vauxhall of some sort?

      1. julkinen Avatar

        Opel Kapitan of another club guy.

  9. Synchromesh Avatar

    This Lada looks nothing like a Yugo. That'd be because they should share practically nothing (except maybe an oil cap). Lada was a relatively original design which was pretty rare for Soviet cars. As for Porsche's involvement, I wouldn't be too proud of it. What did Porsche know about cheap fwd hatchbacks in the 70s-80s? Yup, that's right – nothing.
    This car does look very presentable. Those alloys were never available in Russia, btw. In fact, no alloys were until mid-90s or so. I'd love to buy one of these cars here just to hoon around and puzzle people at an auto show!

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      That's a very good point actually, those who have seen the 2108 and 2109 in person will concur that it was not obviously ripped off of anything existing at the time, which was no small feat at the time.
      Porsche, I recall, did some small consulting work on the manual tranny and some suspension bits, approximately none of which rubbed off on the finished product. Of course NOW they make it sound like Porsche engineered the whole thing….

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